hard rock

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Rarities 4 (CD Collection Volume 3)

Part Twenty-Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Rarities 4 (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 7) (2019)

These box sets are not easy monsters to review.  It makes more sense to discuss the bonus tracks in context with the related studio albums.  Regardless, Rarities 4 deserves a little extra attention.  This is the disc that I had a little bit of personal involvement with.

Back in the years 2000-2001, before Def Leppard had an official standalone live album or box sets, the released 11 tracks worth of live material on their own website, for free.  Unreleased and sourced from the Slang and Euphoria tours, these tracks were not just valuable but essential additions to your Def Leppard collections.  Like many things that exist online only, they eventually disappeared.  If you had them, you had them.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t.

The full 11 tracks were:  “Two Steps Behind”, “Women”, “Demolition Man”, “When Love and Hate Collide”, “Action”, “Animal”, “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak/Switch 625”, “Miss You In A Heartbeat”, “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”, “Goodbye” and “Paper Sun”.

A few years ago, I was contacted about my Def Leppard live tracks.  I was asked if I could provide the files, for use in a future box set.  I said “Hell yeah!”  Having a thank-you inside this set is one of my proudest moments.  They didn’t use them all, but instead they even dug up some addition live tracks that had never been released before.  For the record, the tracks from the original download collection that remain physically unreleased are:  “Two Steps Behind” (San Antonio 2000), “Women” (Salem 2000), “Action” (London 1999), “Animal” (Nashville), and “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)” (Cardiff 2000).  Instead for this they focused on special songs that were a little harder to find live versions of.

It’s really cool for something that once only existed as a file on your hard drive, to now sit as an officially pressed black vinyl record.  Hearing the tracks in a way never before.

The live tracks are organized in batches.  The first grouping comes from Montreal on the Slang tour in 1996.  First is the epic medley of “Bringing On the Heartbreak” and the rare “Switch 625”.  These are awesome versions.  They have a raw, unpolished sound yet the band still nail all the vocals and guitar thrills.  “Switch 625” is always a welcome track for its heaviness.  This version is extra chunky.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the best drummer in the world, Mr. Rick Allen!”

Then another rarity:  the ballad “Miss You In A Heartbeat” acoustic with “Phillippe” Collen on lead vocals, but not before some shenanigans to the tune of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”:

“Mama take this gin from me,
I can’t drink it anymore,
Where’s the sink, I gotta pee,
Looks like I’m checking into Betty Ford…”

It’s a delight to finally be able to share this version I’ve had for years with the world!

“Miss You In A Heartbeat” is always best in its fully electric version, but acoustically with Phil on vocals, it’s something special.  Truly it sounds great live, stripped and with Phil’s rasp.

Def Leppard must have found the original tapes for this Montreal gig, because I didn’t supply them with “Work It Out” or “Deliver Me”, two rarely heard bangers from Slang.  “Work It Out” was a single, a stuttery 90s construction that explored new territory for the British band.  They had come a long way from their New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots and were still writing new kinds of songs.  “Work It Out” has interesting guitars happening live, very different from the usual, but still Def Leppard.  “Deliver Me” is dark, heavy and maybe not idea for a Def Leppard concert, hence its rarity.  It’s cool to hear Leppard apply their vocal talents live to a song like this.  There are hooks but not happy bouncy ones.  This is more serious rocking.

This wraps up the live material from Montreal.  The CD detours into some interesting studio B-sides before we return to live songs later on.

“When Saturday Comes” doesn’t feature every member of Def Leppard – just Joe, Phil and Sav, and written by Joe.  This song and the instrumental “Jimmy’s Theme” are from the CD singles for “All I Want Is Everything” and a film called When Saturday Comes.  As such, they’re a little different.  Even it’s from the Slang era, “When Saturday Comes” has the bright anthemic singalong quality of a movie theme song.  “When Saturday comes, nothin’ else matters to me!”  Sounds like the good-time Leppard we remember regardless of the year.

“Jimmy’s Theme” on the other hand is a laid-back instrumental with a slightly bluesy feel.

Other B-sides from the “All I Want Is Everything” singles show up on a later box set, so fear not if you’re worried they left some out.  Moving on to the Euphoria era, there’s a sudden sonic shift as the band returned to a polished production sound.  “Burnout” (from one of the “Goodbye” CD singles) immediately sounds like the Leppard of Adrenalize.  Whether that’s your preference or not, it’s a heavy tune that probably could have served a useful purpose in toughening up the Euphoria album.  Some great guitar trickery on this one, and the return of the Leppard hook machine.  “Immortal” (also from the “Goodbye” single) is more upbeat, but does have a certain B-side quality.  Not bad, but something about it says “B-side”.

The singles for “Promises” had a couple cool B-sides as well.  “Worlds Collide” has to be one of the heaviest Leppard songs to date.  A solid pounder with a psychedelic bent, “Worlds Collide” proves Leppard hadn’t lost it.  Even in the Euphoria era, which felt like a grasp at past glories, there’s cool stuff like this that rocks without repeating history.

Finally there is “I Am Your Child”, the original Japanese bonus track from Euphoria.  It would have been nice to have it restored to the end of that album, because it really does make a fine coda.  “I Am Your Child” is a truly great Leppard tune with a variety of light and dark parts, and a super chorus.

Missing B-side from the “Promises” single is the “Album Snippets” featuring a three minute medley of some of the album tracks.  Not really necessary even for completists, but if you want it out you’ll have to buy the original single.  The cover tune “Who Do You Love” from the “Goodbye” single will turn up on a future box set.

Back to my live tracks to close the set:  “Demolition Man” from Denver in 1999 is so fast it sounds like they can barely keep up!  A real rarity that doesn’t get live action anymore.  Definitely a valuable inclusion, and a great listen due to the sheer energy of it.

Three tracks from Tokyo in 1999 end this disc.  “When Love and Hate Collide” has been heard a number of times in this box set, but this is the first fully electric live version in The CD Collection Volume 2.  Joe’s voice has a touch of rasp which gives it a little more edge.  Pretty great live version, justifying its inclusion over some of the other tracks.  Finally it’s two rare Euphoria tracks:  the epic “Paper Sun” and apt disc closer “Goodbye”.  “Paper Sun” just lays waste to the land, as one of the tracks that really has serious weight.  “Goodbye”, being a stock ballad, doesn’t have as much impact, but a live rarity it remains.

This brings us to the end of the The CD Collection Volume 2, the biggest most epic release I’ve ever had my name in.  To have that honour is so cool, something I will always treasure.  I don’t think Leppard needed my help with the Montreal tracks after all, but Denver and Tokyo sound like mine.  I hope one day they find reason to release the rest of the 11 download-only live songs.  Perhaps they’ll find the full tapes for Cardiff, Salem, San Antonio, London and Nashville.  Perhaps not.  Leppard are far from done issuing rarities.

The CD Collection Volume 2 is absolutely a valuable purchase for any Leppard fan looking to add the B-sides and EPs to their collections.  It’s not 100% complete, but it does cover most of the bases.  You’ll still want to track down a deluxe edition of Slang, and perhaps some CD singles if you have to have things like all the edit versions.  You may have noticed that things like cover versions haven’t popped up too much; you’ll understand why when we get to The CD Collection Volume 3.

4/5 stars

Next though, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen blow off some steam in their Bowie cover band / Mick Ronson tribute, The Cybernauts.  We’ll take a close look at two discs:  Cybernauts Live and The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts before the Leppard story continues!

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3

Next:

26. Cybernauts – Live

REVIEW: Styx – The Same Stardust (2021 RSD EP)

STYX – The Same Stardust (2021 RSD EP)

Anecdote:  I wasn’t able to get this Styx EP with seven exclusive tracks on Record Store Day, so I knew I would have to pay the “late tax”.  I was surprised that pretty much every copy for sale on Discogs was coming from Russia.  Given the current situation I didn’t want to risk having a record coming in from Russia.  I found one from somewhere else (Estonia perhaps) and bit the bullet and ordered.  Two days later I got an email saying, “We are relocating to Russia!  We will mail your record from there!”  I almost asked to cancel but decided to be patient, and it has finally arrived.  In perfect shape.  Whew.

To accompany their excellent new album Crash of the Crown, Styx released an EP with two exclusive studio bonus tracks, and five live.  Not bad value for an EP when all of them are previously unreleased.  The record is on beautiful, heavy transparent blue vinyl, is low on surface noise, and just sounds wonderful!

The title track “The Same Stardust” opens, and it’s a theme we often hear in science:  we are all, every one of us, made of the same matter from a star that exploded billions of years ago.  It’s a unifying theme, but not a wimpy song.  A crescendo of drums leads us to an upbeat rocker with lead vocals by Lawrence Gowan.  There’s a great little riff after the chorus, and Gowan’s lead vocal recalls the Beatles.  “Walk away from hate!” he sings, reflecting the sentiments of the Fab Four.  Tommy Shaw sings the powerful bridge and then rips into a melodically cool solo.  Easily of album, or single quality.

The second exclusive studio song is called “Age of Entropia” and it is best described as progressive like Styx of old.  Tommy sings this number with a gentle acoustic opening.  It builds into a more robust construction in time, really sounding like only one band:  Styx.  Good song but less instant.

Side two contains the live material, and the side opener is a track as desirable as the unreleased studio songs, if not more: a new live version of “Mr. Roboto” from 2020!  This often shunned hit has finally been recorded again in a live setting, now with Gowan on vocals.  It’s been tuned down a bit, but it still thrills.  As soon you hear that trademark keyboard opening, you can’t help but smile.  Especially knowing how rarely it gets played live.  We all miss Dennis DeYoung but it is clear that Tommy Shaw doesn’t really want to hear about him.  Gowan does an admirable job, as do all the Styx vocalists, as there is a lot going on.  He even adds some of his own flare.  There’s a slightly harder edge on this “Mr. Roboto” and that’s just fine.

Another treat, at least to those in the know, is “Radio Silence” from the excellent album The Mission.  One of the best tunes from that sci-fi concept album indeed, and the first live release of any song from it.  So that’s special, even if Crash of the Crown may very well have topped The Mission.  That’s subjective…but possible.

Classics follow, dominated by Tommy Shaw tuneage.  “Man in the Wilderness” has the same vibe as the newer material, cut from the same cloth.  The heavy solo section is jaw-droppingly cool with wicked wah-wah effects.  James Young gets the spotlight on his heavy hitting “Miss America”.  Always a welcome listen, his unique vocal stylings are necessary for the overall Styx sound.  And that riff!  Speaking of riffs, Tommy closes the disc with the legendary “Renegade”.  Still classic, still awesome, still hard to resist the urge to shake it!  And though it does sound tuned down, Tommy’s voice has an incredible timeless youth.

The Same Stardust is a damn near essential add-on to your Crash of the Crown album.  It would have made an awesome bonus disc to a deluxe version of…oh, man.  After what I paid for this, if they put The Same Stardust on a future deluxe edition of Crash of the Crown, I’ll be pissed!

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Rarities 3 (CD Collection Volume 3)

Part Twenty-Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Rarities 3 (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 6) (2019)

The rarities continue with the CD Collection Volume 2 and the Slang era.  The Slang album cycle produced a number of rarities, including a bonus CD included in its first run.  When this first run of CDs sold out, so did the bonus disc, a six-song set called Acoustic In Singapore.  The whole tracklist is included in Rarities 3, in the right running order.  These songs were recorded at the Hard Rock Cafe in Singapore on the autumn 1995 promo tour for Vault.

“Give it up for Def Leppard!” says the man.  Opening with a bouncy “Armageddon It”, the band were really getting the hang of this acoustic thing.  Comparing one acoustic version to another is a somewhat pointless affair so we’ll just say “it’s great”!  With only acoustic instruments, Leppard are able to reproduce the upbeat party atmosphere of the immaculate original.  Of course they do the same with the vocals, weaving an impressive live facsimile of the layered album.

“Two Steps Behind” is up again, a song we keep hearing over and over since its original 1992 B-side release.  Good on Leppard for turning a throwaway into a perennial.  The Hard Rock Cafe audience positively explodes to sing along the chorus.  An interesting stripped version of “From the Inside” without the whistle and piano then stirs the cafe into silence.  It’s not the kind of song you whoop and holler through.  Phil’s solo is a blur of notes, but Vivian’s is more nuanced and chord-based.

A light “Animal” brings the mood back party.  Take note of Rick Allen’s subtle creative cymbal use on this classic.  Phil’s solo is another blaze of fast flying fingerwork – impressive but also perhaps a little abrasive.  The new ballad “When Love and Hate Collide” is then rolled out, similar to the version recorded at the Wapantake club for the Video Archive release.  The build up to the chorus pretty nice.

“Pour Some Sugar On Me” closes the acoustic set, a song that adapts well to the format.  The party resumes and concludes on a suitably bombastic note.  Amusingly, it seems to take the audience a second to realize what song they’re hearing.  With that, the Acoustic In Singapore CD is out of the way and we’re off to other rarities.

The “Piano & Strings” version of “When Love and Hate Collide” is the song’s second appearance on this disc.  It’s a pretty cool version, with little of the rock instrumentation left.  Like the title says, it’s piano and strings (and minimal guitar), with the vocals of Def Leppard.  This very rare mix comes from the “Slang” single with the “souvenir pack” – an envelope with a set of postcards.

A pretty awesome acoustic song called “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame” was on the same souvenir pack single.  It’s not sad or ballady, just an upbeat and basic acoustic song.  Guitars and vocals, no percussion.  The only critique would be that the song is just too short!

The “Original Version” of the Slang song “Truth?” is next, as we go into tracks from the “Work It Out” CD singles.  The songs for the Slang album went through a lot of experimentation before they took their final form.  Some like “Truth?” are vastly different and it’s a matter of preference which you prefer.  The original’s structure has elements that carried onto the album, but it’s a consistently heavy slam, and far less exotic.  The final version is probably the greater artistic achievement, but the original is the headbanger.

“Move With Me Slowly” also came from the “Work It Out” singles, and the Japanese release of Slang itself.  It’s long been a fan favourite, the kind of song that people say “should have been on the album”!  It’s a buttery, bluesy and soulful song with not a hint of Leppard going in over their heads.  The backing vocals are awesome, and the tune really swings when they start the engine.  Had it been on Slang internationally, it might have satisfied the fans who wanted less experimental songs on the album.

Of note (and this is where things get hairy), as good as this CD Collection is for getting rarities together, if there’s one weakness it’s that there’s a lot more Slang material out there, including a “1st Draft” of “Move With Me Slowly”.  This version is only available on the digital iTunes release of the 2014 Slang Deluxe Edition.  There are undoubtedly reasons for this, but be aware.  The “1st Draft” is very similar to the final version, but with Phil Collen (the songwriter) taking some of the lead vocals.  Pretty cool — and worth the download — but sadly outside the purview of this review.

A lot of the Slang album can be characterised as songs brought in by individuals, and then radically changed by the band process.  The last song on Rarities 3 is one of those:  “Work It Out” as originally demoed by Vivian Campbell.  Again this is taken from the “Work It Out” single B-sides.  Viv had compared the bouncy pop demo to a Crowded House song, and you can hear that kind of quirkiness.  That’s the word — quirky.  The song is more or less the same — same lyrics, same melody — but radically different.  And since it’s Viv’s demo, that’s him on lead vocals as well.  A mini-treasure.

Rarities 3, clocking in at a comfortable 45 minutes, is a solid listen with only one drawback of too much love and hate colliding, fer cripes sake.  I suppose such things are inevitable; a no-win scenario.

4.5/5 stars

One more disc of rarities to go, before we detour with Joe Elliott on a cybernautic adventure.  The next disc is the most special to me, as it’s the one that includes some of my own personal contributions to a box set that has my name in the thank-yous.  It includes more of the Slang demos, but be aware of the list below, all exclusive to the Slang deluxe:

  • “Turn to Dust” (Phil verse vocal) 4:03
  • “Raise Your Love” (version of “Slang” 3:01
  • “All I Want Is Everything” (1st draft) 5:19
  • “Work It Out” (1st draft) 5:19
  • “Breathe a Sigh” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 4:08
  • “Deliver Me” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 3:17
  • “Black Train” (version of “Gift of Flesh”) 4:06
  • “Blood Runs Cold” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 4:12
  • “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” (1st draft) 4:36
  • “Pearl of Euphoria” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 5:49
  • “All on Your Touch” (2012 revisit) 3:58
  • “Anger” (“Deliver Me” 1st draft) 3:15
  • “Move On Up” (Vivian demo) 3:31
  • “Gift of Flesh” (Phil vocal) 4:03
  • “All I Want Is Everything” (1st draft) 5:03 – iTunes only 
  • “Move with Me Slowly” (1st draft) 6:22 – iTunes only

The above tracks aside, Rarities 4 (and eventually the third box set) will get us caught up to complete all the rarities up to Euphoria.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2

Next:

25. Rarities 4

…and the Cybernauts!

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Flush the Fashion (1980)

ALICE COOPER ’80 – Flush the Fashion (1980 Warner, Japanese CD)

The early 80s were a tough time for the Coop.  His previous record, From the Inside, was written about getting clean in the loony bin.  Staying clean wasn’t easy and so we enter the “lost years”:  the records Alice doesn’t remember making due to being blackout drunk.  Flush the Fashion is a divisive album, with some fans loving its straight-ahead new wave direction, while others despaired Alice’s temporary abandonment of rock.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It was the 80s and if that wasn’t obvious by the “ALICE COOPER ’80” title at the top, it definitely was clear by the keyboards and programming.  Roy Thomas Baker of Queen and The Cars fame produced.

With song titles ripped from the National Enquirer, Flush the Fashion contains a number of short, fast, punky new wave songs beginning with “Talk Talk” at barely two minutes long.  You will either love this tough nut of a guitar-driver, or you will be indifferent to it for being light on hooks and brittle in sound.

“Clones (We’re All)”, which was written by outsider David Carron, is the clear album highlight.  It was later covered by Smashing Pumpkins on the B-side to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, and has seen action in Alice’s live set occasionally over the years.  This fun, keyboard-heavy new wave song really nails the 80s sound Alice was going for.  Programmed beats, a bouncy keyboard, catchy words and you have a keeper.  It went Top 40 and evokes a smile and maybe even a little bit of fist pounding.

The ballad “Pain” is the second in a pair of keepers.  A piano-based mourner with a powerful pound, “Pain” possesses tremendous appeal.  Alice’s interesting lyrics provide a number of metaphors for your own internal pain.   “The loudest one laughing at the saddest wake,” for example, and “the lump on your head when you step on a rake.”  Not overly serious, but suiting the character of Alice the masochist.  There’s a simply wonderful dual guitar harmony in the middle that is worth rewinding several times on its own.

“Clones” and “Pain” together are seven solid minutes of Alice that you simply cannot help but sing along to.  The songs will burrow into your mind until they are a permanent part of your grey matter.  They are the proverbial keepers.  The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, which defies memorability at almost every turn.  Fortunately, all these songs are short.

“Leather Boots” isn’t a great song, but it is at least a fun twangy rocker.  Similarly, “Aspirin Damage” is fun if forgettable.  Regardless of the music, Alice’s lyrics always offer some interesting twist or perspective.  There’s probably something autobiographical happening in the back of his mind here too.

That’s side one in a nutshell, under 14 minutes of music.  Side two is over and out in under 15.  These are short songs!  “Nuclear Infected” has some unremarkable guitar crunch.  “Grim Facts” is cooler.  This steadfast stomper has a certain Cars-like vibe courtesy of Baker.  “Model Citizen” leans a bit more into a punky direction, until the chorus which is kitschy Alice with lush backing vocals while Alice does his sinister speak-sing.  For a more traditional Alice song, there’s “Dance Yourself to Death”, which would probably be a third keeper if you were willing to extend it that honour.  No new wave trappings here, just traditional rock like the Alice Cooper Band of old.  It just…it doesn’t stick.  It’s notable for being one of those good second-last tunes though.  The final song is “Headlines”, which has a variety of different sections and tempos, and one cool riff.

Another listener could probably make a case for a solid 3.5/5 star album.  Others will enjoy isolated moments, but will struggle through.  Which are you?

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Rarities 2 (CD Collection Volume 2)

Part Twenty-Three of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Rarities 2 (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 5) (2019)

Quick explanations first:

“Hey, what’s with this Rarities 2?  You didn’t review Rarities 1!”  This is true!  Def Leppard Rarities 1 is in the first volume CD Collection box set.  For this review series, I opted to go with The Early Years box set to cover a lot of those albums and rarities.  Between that set and the Hysteria super deluxe box set that I reviewed in great detail back in 2017, I have written about all the rarities up to this point.  Though packaged together in one sleeve in this box set, we will tackle the Rarities series one disc at a time.

We open with the earliest tracks:  two demos with Steve Clark on guitar.  “Tonight” is brilliant, with the thick opening layered harmonies intact right from the demo stage (would not surprise me if they used the demo intro for the final track).  The quieter acoustic arrangement of the opening is very different from the more standard album cut.  It kicks in hard during the chorus, which is a cool aspect of this arrangement.  The chorus really slams on this version.

Steve’s final Def Leppard appearance was also the final guitar solo he ever recorded (and likely played).  It’s the demo for “When Love and Hate Collide”, the overly soft ballad from 1995’s Vault.  What a solo, too!  He was on to something, with its big Hysteria-esque hooks.  The demo overall is much rougher (programmed drums) but also harder edged.  Joe’s more screamy, the last vestiges of the old style still hanging on.

The Acoustic Hippies From Hell — yes, that is how Def Leppard & Hothouse Flowers billed themselves on the B-side of the “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” single — are next with the original track “From the Inside”.  This is the original version from the single, slightly different from the one on Retro-Active.  Please welcome Vivian Campbell on the second guitar solo slot!  With tin whistle, mandolin and grand piano it’s a very different kind of song for the guys in Leppard.  Lyrically it’s even darker than their previous work like “White Lightning” or “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”.  This time the subject matter is addition, but with a twist of the perspective.  The lyrics are the drug speaking to the user.

You may recall the Acoustic Hippies From Hell cut three songs together, including covers of “Little Wing” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.  We used to wonder why they weren’t included here on this CD.  Those further two B-sides were held back for a covers disc in the next box set.  We’ll get to them when we get to that set!

Def Leppard’s first acoustic song was “Two Steps Behind” from the “Make Love Like A Man” single.  Here is the original track from that B-side, unadorned with strings or electric guitars like the ones on Retro-Active.  If you recall, Michael Kamen dubbed some strings over this one for the Last Action Hero soundtrack, and “Two Steps Behind” became an A-side hit in its own right.

Joe Elliot’s screamin’ hot 1987 demo of “She’s Too Tough” is up next.  Why a 1987 song?  Because its first release was on the B-side of “Heaven Is” in 1993.  (That single also had live versions of “Women” and “Let’s Get Rocked”.  “Elected” is on a live covers disc later on in this series, and “Let’s Get Rocked” will be discussed shortly.)  “She’s Too Tough” was covered by Helix on their Wild in the Streets album in 1987.  While Brian Vollmer does an admirable job of the lead vocal, Leppard’s recording is hands down the better of the two, even though it is just a demo.

Another demo:  Phil Collen’s impeccably arranged “Miss You in a Heartbeat” is all but complete except for the vocals.  Phil did the lead on his own demo versions, and not a bad job of it.  Paul Rodgers used “Miss You in a Heartbeat” for his 1991 album with Kenney Jones called The Law.  It’s cool hearing Phil do his own lesser-known version.  “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, once a B-side like “Two Steps Behind”, was eventually released as its own single too.  That’s where Phil’s demo was original taken from, though it is mislabelled as “Acoustic, Acoustic Version”.  Nope – just Phil’s demo, same as this one here.

Two awesome acoustic versions from the “Tonight” CD single are next in a row.  The acoustic version of “Tonight” itself could surpass the album version.  It just had vibe.  Loads of vibe.  Fabulous guitar solo.  Then Collen’s “S.M.C.” (named for Phil’s wife) features just he and Vivian on acoustic guitar.  It’s a very brief, often forgotten instrumental in a neo-classical style.  This is its first re-issue since the original single.  Play it for your friends and ask them to guess who it is.  (They won’t be able to.)

This CD closes on the four tracks from the rare EP In the Clubs…In Your Face, recording in Bonn Germany.  Four solid hits:  “Hysteria”, “Photograph”, “Sugar”, and the aforementioned live version of “Let’s Get Rocked”.  The club crowd is obviously pumped!  “Hysteria” sounds awesome; “Photograph” is as strong as ever.  “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Let’s Get Rocked” are sort of two of a kind live, a little clunkier but the crowd sure loves ’em.  The new song is a happily received as the old.

This disc makes for a solid listen.  Hits in alternate, lesser heard versions are sure to be pleasers.  The tunes that aren’t hits are all solid themselves.  Although it’s a little disappointing when you scan the track listing and realize such-and-such a B-side is missing, the folks in Leppard know what they are doing.  They’ve re-organized this material to sit next to like material later in the series, and it’ll all be coming up in due time…and perhaps in a more enjoyable track listing too.  We’ll just have to hear how it goes disc by disc!  Rarities 2 is a lot of fun and a great (almost) hour on its own.

5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria

Next:

24. Rarities 3

#983: Gimme Another R!

RECORD STORE TALES #983: Gimme Another R!

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R!

There’s a certain amount of pride that one takes in being a Helix fan.  Helix the band are almost as old as I am!  They formed in 1974 and put out their first independent album Breaking Loose in 1979.  And what a debut it was!  With a handful of road-tested songs, the band plied the waters of guitar rock, with a foot in sci-fi prog and another in boogie-woogie.  Just check out their first minor hit “Billy Oxygen” if you don’t believe me.  They’ve been releasing music steadily ever since, with Capitol Records and others, with only a minor five year gap between It’s a Business Doing Pleasure (1993) and half-ALIVE (1998).

In 2022, Helix are back with a new single called “Not My Circus, Not My Clowns”.  They’re getting ready to start gigging again after two years of Covid-induced hibernation.  The current lineup consists of founder Brian Vollmer, classic members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and guitarists Chris Julke and Mark Chichkan.  Julke has already been in the band eight years, and Chichkan had countless gigs with Helix in the mid-90s.  These veterans absolutely know how to give ’em an R.  Then we have Sean Kelly helping out in the studio to boot, adding some nitro to the mix.  In other words:  Helix are still potent.

It’s fair to say we all miss Paul Hackman.  I never met Paul though I’ve met most of the others.  He sure was a talented writer, and many of his songs like “Heavy Metal Love” are beloved classics today.  Fritz Hinz has been through hell and back, making a stunning recovery after a coma-inducing fall from a roof.  In recent years we also lost original guitarist Ron Watson, keyboardist Don Simmons, and road warrior Brian Knight.  Brian Knight was a kid from our neighborhood, who went to do road work with Helix for many years.  We lost him in 2021.  Yet Helix keep on going, and going, and going.  Even former guitarist Brent “the Doctor” Doerner has a new album coming out called The Ashtray Sonatas.

Speaking of the good Doctor, I first befriended the guitarist in 2006 at a Helix gig.  I knew a guy named Shane Schedler, who was in his new solo band, and this led to an interview with Brent at his home.  It was the first of several visits.  A few months later, with a few gigs under his belt, Brent screened some live footage of the band and had some friends over to celebrate.  It was that night that I wrote up the official bios for his band.  I remember telling Brent I wanted to write the band member bios for his website and then running around the room getting quotes from all the members.  It was a lot of fun.  Definitely a personal highlight.

So for the first time since the first time, here are the Brent Doerner’s Decibel bios that I wrote.

Thanks to everyone who’s ever been in Helix for rocking us.


BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL

Band Bios and Fascinating Factoids

 

BRENT DOERNER (Lead Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars)

“What’s right is what’s left after you’ve done everything else wrong.”

Not just every guitar slinger out there can claim to be a part of a Canadian rock institution.  Brent Doerner can:  He spent over 15 years in Helix playing guitar, writing, singing, blowing minds and winning fans the world over.  He has the battle scars and the gold records to prove it, but that’s not the end of the story.  A new chapter has just begun with Decibel, a new rock band of good-time tunes and unique lyrics that continues his legacy with pride and vision for the future.

CHICK (Rhythm Guitars)

“If you don’t have rhythm, stay at home.”

Ralph “Chick” Schumilas has been around the block once or thrice.  He has 40 years experience as a musician.   In the beginning, he was a drummer which gives him a rhythmic edge that’s tough to beat.  Formerly, he was the co-owner of  Buzz Marshall studios, and has played and written with such luminaries as Cheryl Lescom, Rob Juneau, and Keith Gallagher among others.  He brings his immense songwriting experience to Decibel’s solid live repertoire.

HILLS WALTER (Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“I’m not working for road rash.”

Hilliard Walter’s résumé is impressive in its diversity and scope.  He’s been paying his dues in the clubs across Ontario for the better part of 30 years.  Rock, however, is only one part of Hills’ musical makeup:  He’s done punk, new wave, funk, soul, and every combination and isotope of those styles that is currently known to modern science.  He’s played with Soul Circus, Sthil, Dezmanhall, Ed Bertoli, and lots more.  He saw Helix make their big break and said, “I can do that too.”  Now, Decibel is the main focus of this talented bass player with the soulful voice.  When he sings, you listen.

SHANE SCHEDLER (Lead guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“They tried to bury the double lead, but we’re going to rectify that.”

Shane’s history as a recording artist goes back to the mid-90’s when he was a member of the guitar-driven trio Martyrs of Melody.  With the Martyrs, he released two independent CDs and began honing his songwriting craft.  He’s been grinding his axe for “seven point something Olympic years” (you do the math).  He now writes, sings and plays for Decibel, a band that makes him beam with pride.  Shane is also proud that he hasn’t cut his hair since grade nine.

BRIAN DOERNER (Drums, Vocals)

“Some drummers think ‘time’ is a magazine, but they don’t have a subscription!”

Brent’s twin brother Brian Doerner is legend on the skins.  His discography reads like a “who’s-who” of rock:  Helix, Saga, Brian Vollmer, Ray Lyell, Refugee, Myles Hunter, and more.  He first picked up the sticks after seeing the Beatles on TV in ’65, and it’s been a love affair with music ever since.  A respected session man and teacher, Brian has inspired the others to new levels in their playing.  Now that the twins are back together, the chemistry onstage is infectious.


 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Euphoria (1999)

Part Twenty-Two of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Euphoria (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 4) (Originally 1999, 2019 remaster)

This is where we deviate from the norm.  After perhaps oversteering into the 90s with Slang, Def Leppard made a harsh course correction with their next album Euphoria.  An early retail solicitation  emphasized that after the Pyromania and Hysteria, comes the Euphoria.  It was clear where they were going.  The modern organic touch of Slang was dropped like a hot hand grenade!  In its place was an attempt to retread the hits of the past.  Mutt Lange was brought back to help polish up some songs.

Perhaps worst of all, and like Scorpions, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi at the same time, Def Leppard’s image made a big change.  Hair was cut and styled.  Shiny suits and glammy modern clothes were purchased.  While the transition to Slang felt natural, the direction of Euphoria seemed terribly contrived.  It was no secret that Slang was not a hit, and Euphoria sounded like it was crafted to generate hits to multiple formats.

One of Euphoria‘s flaws is its length.  51 minutes isn’t a big deal, but 13 tracks was too many, as we’ll see.

Opener “Demolition Man” has cool stuttering guitars like bands of the 80s employed.  It’s fast, adrenalized, and stacked high with the patented layered backing vocals.  But it feels less like the triumphant return of Leppard and more…unnatural.  To go with the top speed pace of the song, F1 race car driver Damon Hill plays some outro lead guitar on the track.

“Promises” was undoubtedly the centerpierce of the album.  A pretty successful re-write of “Photograph”, it captures the classic Leppard sound and vibe without the contrived feel.  The rich vocals of the chorus are hard to beat, and that signature Leppard guitar lick is easy to love.  The liner notes also give you lead solo credits for you to follow along – Phil or Viv.  This one has both in that order.  It’s a way to learn their individual styles, if you haven’t already!

The first serious dud is “Back in Your Face”, a plastic “Pour Some Sugar” homage with purposefully thin drum samples.  The ballad “Goodbye” is also filler, even though it was selected as a single.  By this time Leppard had accumulated plenty of ballads, and this reeks of a rewrite of “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”.

The worst track on the record could be the Collen/Lange atrocity called “All Night”.  Digital funk just isn’t becoming.  A band like Extreme might have been able to make something of “All Night” if they did it without all the tech-y sounds, but this is a horrible mis-step.

Fortunately, “Paper Sun” is a mid-album redeemer.  A Leppard epic in the tradition of “Gods of Wars” and “White Lightning”, this one is worthy.  Sure it’s nothing new, but it has the vibe of a third song in a trilogy.  Play all three of those tunes in a row for some back chills.

“It’s Only Love” is another unnecessary ballad, which combines an Adrenalize vibe with Slang, but not memorably.  Then we have the embarrassingly titled “21st Century Sha La La La Girl”, a title as bad at Bon Jovi’s “Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen From Mars”.  It’s not a terrible song, though suffers from a plastic production problem.  It’s punchy, and has a singalong quality, but we’re lowering the bar a bit here.  The third ballad “To Be Alive” is the best of the batch.  Quiet and unassuming, it crosses Slang with Adrenalize more successfully.  Viv’s solo is excellent.

Collen’s “Disintegrate” brings us right back to the glory days of High N’ Dry.  Perhaps as close as they could ever get.  The blazing instrumental has definitely “Switch/625” vibes.  It is followed by another above average track called “Guilty”.  It sounds like a cousin to “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” which isn’t a bad thing.  Mid-tempo Def Leppard, plinking guitars, all good.  Continuing with some decent quality tunes, “Day After Day” has a slower, dramatic Leppard vibe.  The riff sounds vintage.

Closing track “Kings of Oblivion” turns up the tempo one last time for a pretty killer outro.  There’s a hint of the old Joe Elliott scream.  Maybe a smidge of Van Halen.  Rick Allen uses a variety of drum sounds on this album, but he sounds best right here on “Kings of Oblivion”, with a nice loud traditional snare.

A final assessment for Euphoria is difficult to reach.  It’s clear they were out to please old fans that were alienated by Slang.  We’ve argued that the superior Slang was a more creative attempt to adapt to the 1990s.  Euphoria felt like an absolutely commercially motivated attempt to capture “that sound” from the –ia albums, but also with a nudge towards late 90s pop rock.  The modern production does no favours.  But Leppard were unafraid to push further in that direction next time; not folding but going all-in.

Euphoria failed to crack the top ten in America, but “Promises” did hit #1.  It enabled them to go out on a long supporting tour.  But like many bands, the next few years would be rocky in musical direction.

2.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” (UK single)
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales

Next:  

23. Rarities – Volume Two

#981: I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria

Part Twenty-One of the Def Leppard Review Series

RECORD STORE TALES #981:  I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria

Without sounding like a broken record, the 90s were a rough time for rock and roll bands.  Those who suffered did what they had to do to survive.  When that didn’t work out, they’d revert to formula.  In the case of some high-profile groups, the moves were quite obvious attempts to recreate the past.  Take, for example, Bon Jovi.

1995’s These Days was a daring attempt to do something different, a little more laid back and organic.  The result was, with the benefit of hindsight, one of the band’s best records.  But it sold half as many copies as 1993’s Keep the Faith, which sold less than a third of what New Jersey sold, which sold just over half of what Slippery When Wet sold.  The law of diminishing returns.  So what did they do?  The wrote a song called “It’s My Life” which was just “Livin’ On A Prayer 2000” no matter what they admitted to.  Back was the talk box, Tommy, and Gina.  It was embarrassing.  The fans didn’t mind though, and they ate it up like crack-covered ice cream.

Hell, even Motley Crue got back with Bob Rock for a couple new throwback tunes.  They stepped back from the cliff of Generation Swine and scored some minor redemption before Tommy Lee fucked off.

In 1999, Def Leppard were faced with a similar situation.  Like Motley Crue, they leaned into the 1990s on Slang.  The difference was that Def Leppard made a coherent disc that felt natural, unlike the slop that Nikki Sixx fed us.  Instead of selling half of what the triple-platinum Adrenalize sold, Slang only mustered up gold in the US.  Alarm bells were ringing and something had to be done.  And like Bon Jovi at the same time, Leppard too attempted to recreate the past.

A certain Robert John “Mutt” Lange was summoned, and one of the resultant tracks called “Promises” sounds a dead ringer for “Photograph”.  And then, this artwork was released.

“After Pyromania and Hysteria comes…Euphoria.”

My buddy T-Rev was working at the Cambridge location of the Record Store.  He received the press release for Euphoria featuring that slogan in his morning shipment of CDs.  He laughed and gave me a ring to tell me.

Another “-ia” album.  For fucksakes…

I can’t recall my exact words, but I do remember my exact feeling:  “I got a bad feeling about this.”

It was as if the last decade didn’t happen.  Let’s forget the last couple records, no matter how good they may be.  And the cover art?  The dominant blue recalled the past hits, but the return of the classic logo was a clear message.  You’re going to get the Def Leppard you remember.  You’re going to get the Def Leppard album that should have followed Hysteria.  That’s the message here.

While the majority of fans were in love with the idea, I had reservations.  It seemed contrived.  Slang deserved better than to be buried like this.  In fact this move really does a disservice to the whole Slang era.  That album was a brave attempt to try some new hats on.  This looked like a timid step back into safe territory, afraid to do anything but.

Is that what happened?  Find out next time.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” (UK single)
  20. Slang

Next:  

22. Euphoria

 

 

#980: Uh! All Night

RECORD STORE TALES #980: Uh! All Night

My final year of grade school, 1985-86 was momentous.  I’ve written an entire 1986 saga about those times.  I had mono which kept me home sick for much of the end of Grade 8.  This meant plenty of music listening time while I recovered.  Music and comic books.  Discovering so many new songs and bands made it a uniquely special time.  Being sick wasn’t so bad.  It kept me away from the bullies while learning about Van Halen songs such as “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”.  I sat in the basement and watched a lot of Pepsi Power Hours, during (arguably) the peak era of the show.

Additionally, it was the year I decided my favourite band was Kiss.

Kiss were hot on the TV with “Tears Are Falling”, the first single from their newest album Asylum.  Kiss were one of those bands that just made me want to collect them all.  Although I had acquired some used Kiss records in a trade, Asylum was my first brand-new Kiss purchase from a store.  That’s a special thing, because it felt like a rite of passage.  A year earlier I would have been walking up to the counter with an action figure in hand.  In autumn of 1985 I approached the cash register with what was once forbidden fruit.  Kiss used to seem dangerous, even disgusting when I was a kid.  Here I was buying the new Kiss album, for the first of many times.

I like to think that I have a knack for picking the singles for albums today.  It all started with Asylum and their little ditty called “Uh! All Night”.  While “Tears Are Falling” was a really obvious choice for single #1, it seemed to me that album closer “Uh! All Night” should be second.  A lot of albums I owned back then seemed to have a handful of good songs, and a lot of filler.  Asylum has filler (mostly the Gene songs) but “Uh! All Night” was catchy from first listen.  It was also far more upbeat than “Who Wants To Be Lonely”.

If Kiss were out to corrupt young minds, then they would have been happy to know that my sister and I jumped around the basement singing, “When you work all day you gotta UH! all night!”

I wasn’t 100% certain what “uh!” meant in this case.  The Pepsi Power Hour was little help.

With VCR at the ready, I watched attentively as VJ Christopher Ward introduced the video on the Power Hour for the first time.

“What does it mean, ‘Uh! All Night’?” teased Ward.  “Do your homework all night?  I think it means do your homework all night.”

I figured “uh” had to be something naughty.  Partying?

The video came on, and Paul Stanley descended a dark staircase wearing a white captain’s hat.  He removed his overcoat revealing more sequins, reflectors and hair than I could take in.  Dated looking by today’s standards.   The epitome of cool for 1985.  All of them looked cool, except for Gene who really struggled to find the right image, until the Revenge era.  The stage set was cool, like a construction zone at night adorned with lights and speakers.

Kiss danced, and posed, and lipsynched up a storm.  Kiss were designed for pubescent boys like me, who were giving up on action heroes and discovering rock and roll.  And girls.  The “Uh! All Night” video was criticised for, of course, objectifying scantily clad women.

Funny enough, this is where Kiss missed the mark with me.  I liked girls, but not…not the ones in “Uh! All Night”.

I liked David Lee Roth’s “California Girls”.  I ogled the ones in the video for “Blondes In Black Cars” by Autograph.  I didn’t like the platinum blonde Dolly Parton lookalikes in “Uh! All Night”.  Not at all.  Their striptease with the white nylons did nothing for me.  After Bruce Kulick whips out a wicked solo with tapping and guitar faces, the Partons beds turn into bed/car hybrids with headlights and grills.  But the Partons couldn’t drive the car-beds; they had to push them.  Dozens of Partons pushing the car-beds wearing fuzzy high heels and lingerie.  It was ludicrous and completely un-hot.

At least Kiss looked cool, so I watched the video over and over, doing my best to ignore the Dolly Partons in their white beds.

David Mallet directed “Uh! All Night” and the other two singles from Asylum as well.  They all share a similar look, but “Uh! All Night” stands out among them, and not for any good reasons.  Considering the good stuff that Mallet did direct (Maiden, Bowie, Leppard, Queen, AC/DC and many more) it’s best if “Uh! All Night” just goes forgotten on a dusty shelf somewhere in the Kiss archives.

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Slang (1996)

Part Twenty of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original ReviewSlang 2 CD edition (1996)

DEF LEPPARD – Slang (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 3) (Originally 1996, 2019 remaster)

“Too alternative!”, they moaned.  “Doesn’t sound like old Def Leppard!”, they whined.  But what choice did Def Leppard have?

The world of 1996 was not the same as 1992, when Def Leppard re-emerged after a long hiatus with Adrenalize.  Leppard experimented wildly with their music on 1987’s Hysteria, but tended to stick to formula on Adrenalize.  After the hardship of losing Steve Clark, we can forgive them for not trying to re-invent the wheel a second time.  But by 1996, grunge had passed and the decade continued to move further away from classic hard rock and heavy metal.  It was overdue for Leppard to re-invent themselves one more time.  They owed it to themselves.  But it was actually more natural that that.

Vivian Campbell was on board for his first real album with Def Leppard, only to find they were “moving the goalposts”!  After making two painstakingly produced albums, it was time for change.  The band desired a fresh start with Campbell, using no holdover music from the past.  They wanted a more organic album, and part of that was Rick Allen incorporating acoustic drums back into his setup.  They were going to try and express themselves a bit more, and take some serious chances.  To hell with the critics, expectations, and old ways of doing things.

Regardless of how it sold, the final album Slang became a cult favourite for good reason.

Opening on a fade, the new Leppard begins different from any in the past.  “Truth?” is a slow, exotic groove with background samples and loops.  Not a stretch from “Rocket” in a technical sense, but completely different results.  Deeply distorted chorus vocals are a striking shift from the past, but are just as fetching.  An middle-eastern sounding solo nails the vibe, and drum loops offer more modern twists.  The mix sounds just as dense as anything you hear on Hysteria, but with completely different elements.  And fortunately Leppard haven’t forgotten how to write hooks, even if in a darker tone.

“Turn to Dust” takes the scene to India, with sitar and tabla.  Tempos are still slow and deliberate.  “Turn to Dust” has a bit more of the Def Leppard sound on the chorus, with Phil Collen singing backup, but the lyrics sure are different:  “Sentence rape me, segregate me” is a stark turn from “Let’s Get Rocked”.  But everybody was pissed off in the 90s.  This one drones on with ample musical genius towards the end.  Lots of strings and exotic instrumentation, backed by the grind of electric guitars.

The title track “Slang” is an immediate and fun change of pace.  With a modern sound, it could have been a “Pour Some Sugar” for the 90s had it caught on.  Beats and samples mixed in with an irresistible chorus make for a catchy concoction.  It’s really the only upbeat song on the album, but a treat it is.

The ballad “All I Want Is Everything” was briefly previewed on the VHS release Video Archives, in an October 1995 acoustic performance at the Wapentake Club in Sheffield.  That acoustic rendition did not really hint at the dark ballad on Slang.  A simple but effective droning guitar part forms the backing, but the luscious Leppard melodies are delivered vocally and with guitar flourishes.  It’s a different kind of ballad for Def Leppard, but no less stirring.  It was a single, but underperformed compared to past Leppard hits.

Vivian’s “Work It Out” sounded more like a Crowded House song in demo form, poppy and quirky.  Once Leppard wrestled with it, a different kind of track emerged.  Duskier, heavier, with really dominating drums and surprisingly slinky bass from Rick “Sav” Savage.  The final Leppard version is certainly superior to Viv’s demo in the long run though both have merit.  “Work It Out” was another Slang single that should have done better.

One of the biggest album surprises (and perhaps most divisive) is the supple ballad “Breathe A Sigh”.  Gentle tic-tic-tic R&B drum samples back a song that is mostly vocal with minimal instrumentation.  Drums, piano, and understated guitar melodies should have guided this to a hit spot on the charts.

Flip the record for a darker turn of events.  “Deliver Me” is more straight-ahead rock, but certainly not upbeat.  This is heavy, foreboding and dangerous Def Leppard.  Again, not without their knack for a melody.  The quiet/loud dynamic is very 90s, but that doesn’t make it bad.  The fact that Leppard always strove for a melodic foundation keeps it from falling into the morass of soundalike 90s rock.

“Gift Of Flesh” is another surprising twist.  Blasting fast and loud, this track is the most old-school, but still dark like a cloudy sky.  With lyrics like “scorch the Earth and torch the sky,” this is a more apocalyptic kind of rocker for the Leppard we were used to.  But it does rock, and hard!  You could bang your head to it even if you can’t rock rock ’til you drop.

Was Slang too ballady?  “Blood Runs Cold” is the third such song, followed by a fourth called “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”.  Joe Elliott really nails a killer vocal on “Blood Runs Cold”, which is very light and airey.  “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” lightens the skies further.  Acoustic strumming is a more traditional sound for Leppard.  It’s a little more like the acoustic Adrenalize B-sides, with a minimal arrangement.

The last few Leppard studio albums had “album epics”:  “Gods of War” on Hysteria and “White Lightning” on AdrenalizeSlang ends on an epic called “Pearl of Euphoria”.  There’s a lot going on in this track, with guitar overdubs and drones.  It’s a very Zeppelin-y song, but done in a modern way.  It draws from the same worldly wells that Zeppelin often explored.  Its fade-out alone is a minute long!

Unfortunately one of Slang‘s strengths, its adherence to the darker side of pop rock and hard rock, is also the factor that keeps it from hitting 5/5 stars like Hysteria.  It doesn’t necessarily make you feel as great after hearing it.  It does feel like you’ve heard something deeper and more profound, but not something that brightens your soul.

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” (UK single)

Next:

21.  I Got a Bad Feeling About This:  Euphoria – Record Store Tales